Sensation + Social Cognition Research

This research (2019) investigates how it feels to be in relation with one another. After a group improvisation, dancers gave detailed interviews about their felt experience, what sensations they noticed in themselves – while they were in a moment with another dancer which they considered awkward or not-so-appealing. In other words, they were asked, when it felt weird-bad dancing with another, what did you feel-sense?

Sensation + Social Cognition Research – © erinbell – 2019 – (documentation Stage 1. Documentation Stage 2.)

Part 1.
I. About this Research
II. What is a Sensation-Based Interview?!
III. Sensation-Based Interviews as Related to Other Modes of Qualitative Research
IV. E Cognition and Future Research Interest

Part 2. WHY do this?! What’s the Point of Sensation Based Interviews?!

I. About this Research
I investigate how people make sense of themselves, the world and others. I investigate this “sense making” via holding group improvisation labs. After the lab, I sit down with each participant. The two of us select a moment from the lab improvisation to investigate in detail. The style of interview used is unusual; its primary focus deals with the sensations that the participant experienced during the lab. I refer to this as a sensation-based interview (SBI).

Many researchers working in similar ways use the term phenomenological to describe this style of investigation. A few projects from cognitive science which inform or are related to my work include: Neurophenomenology, Nummenmaa Lab, Observatory, Micro-phenomenology, PRISMA l’EXplicitation, Laboratorio de Fenomenologia Corporal. Last, E. Gendlin’s Focusing and my own experience in performance and my somatic praxis in particular, influence this research immensely.

II. What is a Sensation-Based Interview?!
A patient at a Dr.’s office is often asked to describe what they are experiencing. Maybe they are asked “what number do you rate your pain on a scale from 1 – 10?” Maybe they’re asked, “where do you feel the pain?” Or, “is it a sharp or dull pain?”

Yet, when we go to describe the rest of our experience in terms of sensation-based descriptions, we are often lost. This seems to be a simple idea but difficult to understand. Imagine a Dr. visit scheduled for when you felt well rather than in pain. The Dr. might ask, “on a scale of 1-10, how much wellness do you feel?” Or, “Is your wellness a sharp or dull feeling?” “where do you feel your wellness?”

Each moment of our lives feels like something. Some moments are rather dream-like, abstract; we have a sense of something but when we reach for words to describe it this something vanishes like a fist-full of fog. Sensation-based interviews are a bit like the Dr.’s office questionnaire wherein graspable descriptions tend to emerge about how life feels.

Before going further, let me clarify what I mean by sensation. I believe that my use of sensing and sensation is similar to Anotonio Damasio’s use of the term feeling. That is, I am working with the idea that all experience – whether it is classified as a thought, emotion, a physical sensation, or something else – happens within the context of living with-in a body. As such, many aspects of our life can be felt.

I often think of ice fishing as a helpful way to talk about the importance of sensations: ice fishers will often drill a hole in the ice, drop a lure attached to a flag pole, then wait. Once a fish has bitten, the flag pole attached to that lure raises up automatically. I find that the graspable information emergent in SBIs can function similar to such a flag. The description of sensation can work as a signal, helping us to figure out where/how to direct further neuro/cognitive observation of implicit body-waters.

These days a lot of people have heard of brain studies using fMRI machines. Such science reports often sound something like, “We found that primed group A exhibited significantly reduced right amygdala activity during negative emotion processing compared to control group B.” Similarly, I am interested in: how do different parts of our bodies significantly change or “light up” during this-or-that moment of life? Yet, my investigation does not explicitly look at amygdalas or other parts of brains. Rather, my research follows what “lights up” in terms of what sensations a person experiences and what they sense, both inside their flesh, and beyond.


III. Sensation-Based Interviews as Related to Other Modes of Qualitative Research

Many qualitative questionnaires tend to focus on emotional experience, with questions such as, “on a scale of 1-10, how connected did you feel to the other participants during…“? Or they focus on theory of mind, with questions about “putting oneself in the others’ shoes“. Some researchers find it important to determine whether a sensation should be classified as a thought, emotion, or otherwise. These are just a few examples of focus found in qualitative research.

I want to make clear: I find many modes of research to be worthwhile! SB descriptions provide a different type of information than most qualitative questions. Here, I am trying not to disparage other modes of research. I AM suggesting that these varied modes of research are different, and that they can work together, bringing forth a richer picture of the various layers of experience.

To clarify, here are a few layers that can be investigated during any given moment of experience:
* We can research quantifiable data (such as heart rate, amygdala activity, etc),
* We can research a person’s narrative of emotion, thought-meaning, theory of mind or similar (such as, “I felt happy“, or “I felt she did not want to engage with me“, “I felt connected with him at a level 5 on a scale of 1-10 …“, or “I felt that way because…“, or “I saw his hand and I began to think about my father…“)
* We can research sensation (such as, “I felt the front part of my head activated. It felt like there was a storm going on. Zigzags moving in every direction, very fast.“)

Dancers, somatic practitioners, meditators, martial artists, and more – many of these practitioners are well versed in the realm of micro sensations. With years of experience in their respective fields, they can sense into any given moment of life with a great deal of nuance. In my own research I have found that SBIs are particular in that detailed descriptions of sensations often emerge when working with lay people and expert sensing practitioners alike. In other words, one need not be an expert to participate in this style of research. (One caveat here: In order for SB descriptions to emerge, I do find it to be extremely helpful that the SB interviewer is a practitioner of some form of nuanced sensing.)

(Here are a few writings which explain a bit about E Cognition: The Enactive Approach, Can Social Interaction Constitute Social Cognition? and the 4E Cognition group.)



WHY do this?! What’s the Point of Sensation Based Interviews?!

The shortest answer to this question is: I have a hunch there is something important to be learned by researching a sensation-description layer. For a longer reply, below I note some personal interests, as well as some specific ways that I can imagine this type of information may be useful in cognitive research. Hopefully my examples will stir your own imagination and curiosity, bringing forth new perspectives on research.

I am interested in such questions as: How do we make sense of the world? Can we learn more about how we think-feel-function so that we can live in a way that is full of more personal, social – ecological – ease and calm-vitality? More right-relating?

I speculate that investigating low-key moments of distress can work as a very helpful learning pasture. By working slowly with such moments, I believe, we can help our cells and systems to regulate in a less-stressed way to daily-life social bumps and discord.

I understand that one’s entire organism is involved in the process of understanding/making sense of-with our world, while simultaneously being in an ever-going intimate dance with the world and organisms around our bodies.

I am especially interested in how organisms interact with one another – what many call social cognition. Again, my interest here is with the hope that we can learn how to be-act-care with one another and all other-than-human organisms, in a way which fosters mutual wellness.


In terms of cognitive science, some thoughts I have about how SBI may be helpful include:

* SB interviews may be a useful design step for cognition experiments. That is, by gaining detailed information about where and how felt-activation occurs in a person during a given task before an experiment is completely designed, a researcher may be better equipped to understand how/which and where to place quantitative recording devices. To say this another way, this possibility would be to follow the flags of sensation to the location/region most activated. Then the researchers might assemble an appropriate interdisciplinary team, as related to the body region of felt-activation. Such a “following the flag” design method can be contrasted with heading straight to a pre-determined recording device/body region, such as fMRI.

* In general, I feel that SB interviews can fertilize the ideological soil of researchers interested in moving away from brain-centric views of cognition, towards social-ecological-relational-implict-E cognition research.

In the same way that paying attention to where a brain “lights up” can foster better understanding of cognition (aka how an organism is making sense with-in their world) – paying great attention to where sensation “lights up” in bodies can help us better understand how people make sense with-in our world.

* Many science studies demonstrate a strong corroboration between chronic loneliness and development of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, lung disease, or stroke. Perhaps by paying close attention to where/how loneliness is felt, new insights may emerge about how cardiovascular disease, lung disease, etc begin to form.

If a proper study was possible, would we be able to find meaningful correlations in the ways that affective experience is sensed in the body? For example, when a person experiences loneliness/alienation/disconnection – what can be learned by asking: in the area of the body that is sensation-activated during this experience, what is going on with this organ or tissue region, long before a cardiovascular disease has emerged? How-why-what’s the relationship between a loneliness/alienation/disconnection experience and a body area which is felt strongly? Or, what correlations exist between activated sensation and activated quantifiable data during an experience of loneliness, etc?

* I see SB descriptions as a way to enrich investigations which focus on wellness (such as research dealing with mindfulness, nature exposure, active movement, or broad research such as Stanford’s Wellness Living Laboratory project) One might ask, during a moment of experienced wellness, how are sensation-activated areas of one’s body related to quantified activation? Or, in broad studies, if researchers compare any number of activities that often bring forth an experience of wellness (such as nature exposure, tai chi, hatha yoga, conscious breathing, etc) – are there any significant consistencies about how or where sensation activation occurs?

I suspect that sensation information can be a helpful layer in the ongoing development of precision healthcare; SB research may help illuminate how-why any given wellness practice may be more or less suited to a particular individual. Scientific validity of specific wellness practices will continue to be extremely influential in areas such as determining how children are taught in schools, bringing forth more options in clinical offerings/prescriptions, and in expanding the sorts of wellness practices covered by state/health insurance companies.

* Some studies look towards bodily synchronicity as a way to explore how particular movements relate to an experience of social bonding (As in L. Noy et al.’s research of synchronization of heart rate or K.Yun et al. study of synchronized gait.) When I read these studies I remember my own, long history of improvisation in group performance.

In my own experience singing in harmony brings forth a greater feeling of social bonding than does singing in unison. So, I wonder, if my heart rate is synchronized with my fellow singer more readily when we are singing the same notes, what bodily movement/sensation relates to my overall experience of “stronger bonding during harmony singing”? And, how do the felt dynamics (sensations) relate to the quantifiable data?

* I speculate that the emergent information from SBIs can add an important layer of depth to research dealing with movement – such as phase transition studies (ie JAS Kelso et al), and in research dealing with the correlations between movement and thinking-emotional-affect (such as work by H. Blake and M. Batson, N. Myers, C. Streeter et al, etc.) I understand the implications of movement-thinking-emotions research to be particularly important for cultural shifting in educational formats and health insurance inclusivity.

* For those interested in environmental aspects of sense making, I believe SB descriptions can open new horizons of research. For example, whether we are investigating an interaction between a person and a tree or a building, some aspects of our interaction are quantifiable (such as noting the shift of air temperature between the two bodies.) Looking into sensation layers of such an interaction may, again, work as a “flag”, pointing us which way to head for further research. As well, I am compelled to ask: when a person experiences a pleasant feeling or repulsion when in contact with an aspect of their environment (such as a building or tree) how does their SB information correlate with any quantifiable data?

Such research may have synergistic effects when related to other enviromental/nature research, such M.Gagliano‘s work, G. Chevalier et als research dealing with “earthing”, architecture studies, or Stanford‘s nature effect studies. SB interviews may help us better understand how we make sense together-with our environment.

* Social Justice – I have long understood this feeling-sensing work as being an amazing tool for investigating internalized racism, sexism and other forms of dominating-oppression oriented social norms. I’ve long felt that the way that I teach and work, weaving in topics of oppression, were working towards unraveling oppression – even if the class names I use did not use these words.

However, just as ‘exposure to nature’ alone was not enough to unravel euro-colonialism from the hearts-bodies of many settlers the world over – the somatic-embodiment world’s persistent appropriative, individualistic, and all-lives-matter style of operation, inform me that even more direct conversation is called for. More verbal, written and other styles of instruction are needed as conceptual bridges – in order for people to make clear connections about their sensation experience with the broader oppressive social and environmental paradigms in place.

Thanks to the work of many, many people and in particular the Black Lives movement – there is now more social public space to have people show up to do embodied work focusing on topics such as racism. My hope is that the more we work on various topics, the more we will be able to  understanding that all forms of oppression and liberation are interwoven. I hope that as we continue to work we can learn to hold more complexity, to hold intersectional experiences.

I find that explicitly investigating sensations in relation to topics of social oppression can have a dramatic effect on dismantling, unraveling racist, sexist and other forms of oppressive implicit bias held in each of us. Scientists working in fields of cognition, psychology, neuroscience and more can use this sensation-based form of investigation to consider oppressive dynamics in their day-to-day life in academia.

More in relation to cog/neuro sciences, I hope that sensation-based work can help flesh out implicit bias studies. That is, my very early suspicious is that there is a strong similarity of contraction happening to people on a micro level when they encounter an anti-bias moment – and softening and opening experiences occur in in-bias moments. While any bias moment is complex (I am thinking now of Sapolsky’s book Behave), I suspect that by researching more thoroughly, and using the sensation-based interview information gathered- we may be better able to modify the anti-bias trainings which already exist.

Many anti-racism and anti-bias trainings and experiential learning settings already employ a great amount of attention to sensation/feeling. They are already quite skilled, I feel. In addition to this, I hope/am curious if further detailed study of sensation-layers can continue to enrich what is already in place in terms of education.

All materials on this website © erin christine bell 2019-2020.

link – movement session: apx 32:58 – 33:15.


link Interview: participant 0103A
link Interview: participant 0103B
About this research:
A small group participated in an improvisation-movement session. Each participant was asked to chose one moment during the session in which they experienced some amount of awkwardness, confusion, or “not quite right-ness” when interacting with another. Each participant was interviewed about the sensations they experienced during this moment; additionally, the person with whom they were interacting was then interviewed about their respective experience.The moment of interaction explored is often less than 15 seconds in length. The entire length of this style of interview often takes 1 – 1.5 hours. In this style of interview participants describe a continuous experience, of one micro moment unfolding into the next. Often, within this ocean of continuity, sections emerge which have a similar tone, flavor or feeling. These sections arise like crests of a wave. They are not strictly divided. The division, here, is to highlight that each crest has a particular set of characteristics.Analysis – Stage 1: Below is Stage 1, in which I include only those passages of the interview which relate to my interests in sensation + social cognition. (Full interviews are accessible in the link to the left.) If you scroll down, reading phase 1, then phase 2, etc, you can get a sense of the chronological nature of the moment discussed.During the interview process certain passages of the experience are repeated, several times. In each re-telling more details generally emerge. The additional information gathered about this same phase, retold, can be noted via reading this table from left to right (A, B, C, etc.) Again, these divisions are not tight categorical boxes. They are used in order to relay some of the particular character of this sort of interview.Analysis – Stage 2: HERE.

0103A – Interview Summary – Highlights – Stage 1
Phase 1 – “Pre-contact/First Sensing Approach”

-I was in a really, like, kind of calm, flowy moment
-in tune with what I needed to do…super calm, everything was… not super physical. Everything was very like, “ah.” Yeah, super simple. And all the movements just felt really easy and really nice and soft… I imagine like the inside of my chest, like the red fleshy color also..very soft…the fleshy bits inside are like sinking and melting…at the same time a bit of a spreading of energy…it kind of like melts but also on the inside…just a little point of something that goes like, “ahhh”…finds space
really middle. But…I don’t feel it in my back…more in the front…it stays like really inside the rib cage
…when I notice it I think that it goes a bit with the breath; that it moves also. Up and down…spread also
I had this image of my chest and then this kind of thing inside that’s more like yellowy, shiny…yeah, it’s yellow-like light thing.
Were your eyes open or shut…?
When did you first sense [0103B]? Was it in touch, or before?
A little bit before
…In seeing [0103B] did anything shift?
not instantly…a thought came up…of like, “Oh, she’s coming.” But I was still like in the same state… I think the whole approaching was fine. I was just with myself and I was, “Oh, ok, she’s coming.” I didn’t see a problem in it…
I remember it fast and playful…[her] chest really approaching…a lot of energy, a bit chaotic, child-likearms just kind of like following

Phase 2 – “Split Second of First Contact”

then [0103B] kind of like really caught me in a way, with a lot of energy.
contact where [0103B] really…grabbed me…and then it was a mix of all kinds of things then…
…did that split come up at the moment of touch? Or at the moment after, or?
…a little bit after…but really split second after…I think that in the beginning it’s Ok.

Phase 3 – “Wanting/Not Wanting – Frozen”

then I felt like…it really took me by surprise…my instinct is… I need to go with it, I need to do something with this. But I was like, “but I actually don’t really want to.” And that was a moment where I was, “aghhhhhh”, like stuck between these….it wasn’t really until the moment of contact that there was like this problem, I would say…
…it’s not like my state [soft/flowy] disappeared, it was still there…in a way I was completely fine with it. But then at the same time I felt like I wasn’t…- so contstantly going between like, “Oh great, I can go with this” between like, “Ah, I don’t really want to.” And then nothing happened and it was just kind of frozen….only when I notice I don’t want to do something with this, or I don’t know what to do with it, then came a bit more panic of like, “augh“… little bit of surprise feeling
the wanting to go with it and the not wanting to go with it…the wanting to go with it is like…still very calm and like you’re scanning your whole system for options in a way…you’re trying to be open so you’re like looking, like, “what can I do?”…soft and calm and more investigating
…the not wanting is very like rigid…suddenly very closed off...a bit more panicky and then you can’t think clearly anymore. Then there’s – it’s weird because there’s more happening in my mind I think, when I want to go with it. But it feels like when I don’t want to go with it it’s so much. But it’s actually not, it’s just one thought that’s like, “no, no, no, no, no.” that kind of takes everything over and you don’t allow anything else to come up and it becomes very like this panic where all clarity is gone and you’re a bit like, “dagh.”
…watching [you]…describe it, do you feel it more in your head?
-Yeah. For sure. I feel a kind of chaos in my head that really disconnects me from my body…I just feel like something bouncing all the way around [the head]…feels like there’s so many things up there but…I’m just sending noise into my brain that cancels out all the thoughts…I’m not even really thinking anything it’s just like, “dagh“, yeah…all over…super fast and also like more things at the same time
it suddenly becomes less clear where my body is in a way, and how I can move it.
…more on the inside…my energy before…I was very happy for it to come out. Then it was suddenly like, “no.”…I didn’t want to share it any more…so it was more an internal closing than a physical one
…how does it close?
– …everything more to the midline
this bodyscanning, did it stop? Or did it keep going on?
– I think it was still there.
-how you scanned the options?
-it feels very like “wooooough” like up and down and side, all the time…
-very much from my head that I send something down…I think [the “wooough” and the sending down] comes from the same part [of head]. Yeah. It’s all like up here, like brain area.
-then I just freeze basically. And… there’s still that [fast movement in the brain] going on inside… but I know it’s also this state where you’re like just waiting for something to be over. It feels like you’re keeping your mind busy until it’s over. And my body’s not really responding. It’s like “aaaaggghhhhhh”…
more stillness in the waiting… my mind is like “ughhh“, but…more and more I shut my body out
describe how this stillness was? -[I] don’t actually think that physically it was… super tense… I relate it to this feeling that I had also when I was like in my teenage years… problem doing homework… watch television… that’s the feeling like I’m just in a sofa, like super passive. Just distracting myself and my body’s… I don’t even know if it’s there. Like I’m just distracting my mind because I need time to pass… I think internally it feels harder; for some reason it feels more rigid than like closed. I think…muscle-wise, I think it was, yeah, quite still soft…

Phase 4 – “Release/Returning to the thing before”



(apx. 35:00). Once the moment was over and I can feel [her] release… I just kept going with the thing I was doing before… but then there was…  a lot of thoughts… A part of me was like, “ok, it’s fine, just keep going. It’s ok.” But then another part of me was like, “Oh, I don’t know what just happened… ah, fuck…” –


– and the “waiting” ended by [her] moving away? – “Mmhmm” [Yes.]


  – [could you] describe… simultaneous things… the parts not done “processing”?… these different pieces you speak of… how they feel?


– in a way my body could find the first quality that I was going with, very easily again… but then I felt very much like that my head was still busy with thoughts. That like my body was just moving with the memory… in my head there was this conversation of like trying to encourage me to keep going… but on the other hand also like, ah! I don’t know if this is actually fine. I should have done something…

– did these “conversation thoughts” happening, did they feel different than, like, the before…?

– Yeah… these ones felt more like talking speed… a bit more… observative and calmer… not so much like, “ahhh”…

-… This “memory from before”… [was it like] going into the pattern without actually being in the pattern?

– Yeah… because with my head I was not there.

– was any of the sensation in the center area back? Or not quite yet?

– It was still in a way there, but not as present, I think. Like, I could still feel the softness and calm. But the glowing, I would say, wasn’t so much present.

– I took just a moment for myself to… focus on my movement again… I think the thoughts just probably faded away. Like, also with the realization of like, “ah, well, it happened.”… took a moment for myself and tuning back in through the sensation in my body. And then once I… felt a bit more secure again, like, “ah, ok, I’m here”, in a way, I could go back, open up more to other people.

– Do I have this right: the thoughts faded away, but the memory of the thoughts fading away isn’t really clear?- Yeah, yeah. Yeah, ’cause I don’t actually know how long – maybe they were still there, but I could focus back on my body…


– when you were able to come back, were the sensations… are they a bit different now? Or…?

– … a bit different… I think they might be a bit drier afterwards… this, maybe, soft chesty feeling was not so like…

before… it was a bit more emotional, in a way… now it was just like “ok”. Like kind of still soft but drier… it wasn’t this like “ahhhh [sigh]”, super nice, yeah, more emotional chesty feeling. It was more like evenly spread…in the body. Just an overall calm, soft. But drier.

– this “drier”… and the “sighing”… are there any more words to describe the difference in quality?


– Yeah, the second one… more like this zen, martial arts thing. Like air that’s super neutral but still soft and nice. Yeah, more neutral… really reminds me of this Tai Chi kind of thing, where you just do everything and you are soft. But without emotion. Whereas before it felt closer to me… I think before it felt more important to me. I was really doing “me”. And then after… this drier, martial artsy quality… it felt like maybe it didn’t necessarily come from “me” anymore… that it came a little bit more from the outside. Still me but, yeah, yeah…

– the fact that I was calm again and, like, in control. Yeah, once I had the feeling that I had the control back, I was like, “ok, now I’m confident again to… go towards the group”.


– … Do you think that there is something else, that feels important to add?

– … I definitely found a lot more information, yeah…. it made me realize, also, many things about this… closing. Because it’s something that I do a lot. And I never really knew what it was; ’cause it’s this panicky moment. You design, kind of, this moment to forget it. It’s like, “ahhhhh, just get it over with.” And then you… never really look back on it ’cause the purpose of this moment was just to let time pass and then you continue. But, yeah, that’s interesting. I never realized…

I also… hope I remember things right…



A B C D E F …

Phase 1 – “Seeing Her – Going Towards Her”

I was moving around a lot and also talking, giving instruction…A particular feeling seeing Eva…her being in my perception and the intent towards her before [physical contact.] Seeing her…her tonality…intaking the quality of her movement...very much like a pull[around me] torso area. Not in a sense from her but…as though water’s going this way. Like following…a feeling of being magnetized in that direction…I saw her and then this feeling of [shwoough]. It was definately in front of me…sort of tingly in my skin…some sparkles of it throughout my torso but the main gust of it felt in front of me. ….magnetized. It definately didn’t feel like she was pulling me…if there was a net around me and the net was pulled that I would feel the reverberation of the net…feeling it as a torso – and real light. Not any thing significant…feeling a bit of myself going, “Oh, we’re going… …it didn’t feel like [the group was] in an open field. It felt like we were in a closed field…[I could] feel the others nearby but no sense of magnetism towards them…there’s a light string. Like a “Oh, …the trail is … not here.

I was like, “Oh, I want to play with her.
There was some continuity…[the sequence is] like: being pulled, not quite sure, touching “sigh”, and then listening and like, “yeah-nugh.” And this kind of like “yea-nugh”…as this magnet pull is happening, there’s already some “yea-nugh” information there.
…the information, the sensations that I feel…a little bit of back-shoulder, not in the head at this time…there’s subtle…tension…I was already feeling a lot before I landed in touch.
– Interviewer: how did you know you wanted to play with her?
– It feels like “burrrrrrrrrdhg, burrrrrrrrdhg, burrrrrrrrrrdhg!!
– Was that feeling there at the same time as feeling pulled.
– [nods yes.]… this energy [the playfulness] was there pre-this-moment and remained throughout… had already been established… it was definitely upward but more like a trampoline. You also have to go down but the big action is upward...throughout [my body]….feeling it a bit..maybe a little bit past my skin too
in the approach it didn’t feel like the head was saying listen. It felt like the listening command had already been ignited…the listening was already happening and there was no relationship to head; I just felt it in the…places I was talking about [back-shoulder].

Phase 2 – “Landing”



[I] wrapped my arms around her. physical contact felt in total continuity with my visual perception of it prior. It really matched…[a] luxurious tonality of capacity, supple…and strong at the same time…firm clay…feeling that through the areas [of my body] that were touching her…a sense of ease with myselfcapacity and aliveness and ease. There wasn’t any particularly strong need for anything particular…a feeling of, “Oh, this is what it’s like to be in contact.”… upon touch arrival it did feel like there was a moment of like, “Ahhhh.”…a moment of landing and being like “Here. Sigh.” …This “ahh” is more of this dropping down feeling; relaxing downwardly. even coming into the touch, like I didn’t just like, “swooooump”. There was some, already caution… even in the approach and the landing. simultaneity of things…the tension that was already there…brief moments where it…stopped in the relaxation…for a split second...and even the kid energy went like “suuugh” in the relaxation moment of landing.

Phase 3 – “Listen!”



[I was] having an abstract thought of “how is this?” to myself. … simultaneously…it felt like what we were doing was a bit awkward…in a very subtle way…it didn’t feel like we were in symbiosis or something. It felt like I’m trying something on her…and like tasting the reaction…there was an intention of that even going towards her…really comfortable with her…and comfortable with her capacity to take care of herself...I didn’t get the sense she was wanting to come play with me. I was like, “Ok, I’m gonna try playing with you. This doesn’t feel right but I’m gonna just feel it…like once I landed I’m like “Oh god, both of our bodies feel great…what I percieve of you feels really relaxed and I feel relaxed. And yet, this is weird. interviewer: How did you know it was weird?
– …I feel a little bit of head movement … like, “doo bluuu bluuu bluuu“… weren’t super chaotic, this head sensation … moving kind of like, “shuuushuu..” and like a little bit of tension [in neck and head]…through my shoulders. And kind of on the backside. This sort of similar, this [gestures]… tempo [of the head] … moving like sparkles…and also feeling muscle tension along with that kind of movingness.
And then this pause that slipped into…more tense….abstract thought at that moment of like, “Listen.” I very much had the intent to listen after I landed… I didn’t stay in the like, “I’m going to like soak you up.” I landed and I was like, “ahh.” And then, “listen.“..And then the “listening“…kinda like picking back up again, going again more upright. and then as the listening happened…the tension in the back and shoulders and neck and head got louder. Or, like, the intensity turned up. Like, assessing… the “listen” …feels like it’s coming from my head…this feeling of the head talking downwardly, like, “hey.“… like, “yea, yea, yea, this puppydog thing – chill the fuck out. Listen to this creature.“…the “listen” was like a self-command. Like, I already knew to be listening…and then I landed and there was like this comfort, and then it was like, again, this renewal, this sharper like, “listen“…so, feeling the playfulness…and being like, “shhhh.” So it had this…muting
the command to listen didn’t feel tense. The information that I heard felt tense…The command felt like, “shhh“…what I heard was like, “uggggghhh…“, which was the continuation of what I heard in the approach also.
like the tension felt more related to “this isn’t right…there’s not an easy flow here…this person doesn’t want to play with me…they’re doing something else.“…I felt…her body got maybe like a micro-meter tense or still. And I felt a similarness in me...and that moment felt like it was longer. All the other moments felt faster. And this phase, the act of listening, rather than the command to listen, felt like it was like awhile…it felt like it kept being this tension, rather still

Phase 4 – “Departure/Separation”



when it felt like…she [was] moving away, letting go. …and then she was moving a bit and then – there was some kind of like waiting-for-her-to-move-away. Like, I decided I was going to stay here already…like, “I’m waiting here ’til I don’t know what. Unless I know that she’s trying to leave.” And then I felt her…trying to leave…as soon as I felt her trying to leave being like, “ok, cool.“…I actually felt her move away and I feel like those sensations were in [my] arms first


her overall…supple, it remained
in the stillness…it felt we both had more tension…[in the moment of sensing her departure] there was a little bit…not back to the original, but a little more suppleness than the…waiting-listening time
As soon as I felt an away-from-me, from her, that I was like, “ok.” immediately.

…it didn’t feel like there was an axe to [the separation]…some like…feeling her still and then not, in the really quick separation…
it was like a, like, “I release you from my attention. You’re doing something else. Ok.” and really just instantly letting her go – it just didn’t feel like an axe…
like a: “ok, bye” – shhhhhhuhhhht – gone. So it took this whole – this much space [approximately one full arm length]
Yeah, once I got here, then I felt out of contact with her. Which felt, uh, there was like open air then around me…the little kid returning, the “brruuuuughhh…” – just real easy shift.

This material is open for personal/not-for-profit use – cite this work as appropriate.

These charts are based on one moment of an interaction between participants 0103A + 0103B. Scroll down to follow the phases chronologically. (More about Sensation-based interviews. More about this research.)

The phase divisions here attempt to highlight the section-like changes in tone, sensation, and feeling which populate the continuously changing quality of experience. This partitioning of experience is something akin to trying to isolate one wave from the ocean. One cannot easily separate a wave from the rest of the water. Clearly there is a wave, but it is all-the-time integrated in with the rest of the water, with no clearly defined edges. The phases here are not meant to be strict divisions. They are meant to softly spotlight each crest of experience.

0103A Sensation Mapping 0103B
phase 1
phase 2
phase 3
phase 4

More interviews in the style can be found here.

Concluding Remarks
What I have learned here is most aptly relayed in this writing. Also, in the writing just below: FUTURE HOPES FOR NEURO + COGNITIVE SCIENCE.

That said, I have a few additional comments about consistent and intriguing aspects of these interviews:

1. The use of the word “Oh!” – Time and again, participants begin describing their experience with this word. In one sense, this makes sense to me: When one stops to FEEL experience, it is full of surprises, constantly. One can get a sense of how little one “controls” their own life. It is frequently strange and consistently surprising to listen to how much inside of oneself just “pops up”, influencing you one way or another. Sensation exploration can give one a peek at the depths of activity going on in this primordial soup of experience.
At the moment I do not have much more to say about this. It feels important. If is related to this research. It feels like it is a trail sign, towards learning about even more exciting aspects of human-nature.

2. People consistently describe sensations in their frontal chest area. The regularity of this, along with this seeming to correspond with what I hear during my work as a somatic practitioner – have me speculating that something in the chest tissue has more to do with cognition/sense making then science currently understands. With all of the research going on relating to microbiomes, and the lush ecology therein, the chest focused experience seems even a bit more curious to me.

3. Directionality/Dynamics of experience – How do felt/sensation-based dynamics relate to other dynamics found in nature, on all scales (such as the “opening” + “closing” of a cell or human body)? What more can we learn about affect on all scales by paying close close attention to sensation dynamics?

4. This work has furthered my speculations that sensation-based work can contribute a great deal towards understanding more about all sorts of social dynamics; with the potential to lead to beneficial education/practices for social interaction (and more about how/where to employ related quantitative measurements).

In relation to trauma research: the similarity of sensation-description during low stake and high stake situations have me guess that it’s a good place to research – I suspect that low stake research can shed light on human experience in places where a controlled study of high stake (aka trauma research) is not possible. I chose to investigate “awkwardness, confusion, or “not quite right-ness during interaction” for a particular reason, in part, because I had been noticing my own affective responses during low-key (ie little/zero career risk, social risk, physical risk, long-term/deep emotional risk, etc) moments of improvisation/daily life. During such moments I often noticed “tightening/closing in” sensations and/or “frozen” sensations. This experience seems to be echoed in all participants interviewed (as well as in prior interviews).

In relation to racism, sexism and other oppressive social biases – following sensation clues may help us to see physiological change and thus increase our understanding of social and mental experience in more concrete terms. That is, if we can measure physiological effects of, for example, “micro-aggressions” we may have an easier time naming them, understanding them – and – inspiring effective education/shifting of such biases). (related: carol tavris)

In relation to unstable mental/emotional situations – while working with people in my somatic praxis, people often described an underlying fear of “catching” another’s mental instability, or otherwise being mal-effected by another’s “vibe”. In such interactions, again, I descriptions of “tightening, freezing, closing inward, etc” to be common.
Now, for a moment, consider our early lack of understanding about germs. If you wear latex gloves, wash your hands, wear a face mask or so on, you significantly reduce the probability of contracting the virus/pollutants/bacteria/etc of the air you breath or from a person with whom you are interacting. By following sensation-descriptions of social interaction I think we can get new ideas of what to measure quantitatively – in order to understand more about what invisible exchanges are happening during such interactions – and how to navigate them in safer/more vital ways for all concerned.

5. For almost all participants I have worked with, this process seems to bring about insight, to generally feel meaningful, therapeutic for those interviewed. It seems to help people, even without any “intent” towards this goal. That seems great by me.


Along with neurophenomenology and contempletive neuroscience, what I hope to see flourish within cognitive science are such studies as:

Cognitive Sentiopectology – Quantitative investigation of biological processes related to cognition, with a specific focus on all pectus tissue, combined with qualitative accounts of what people feel in this region – in the aim to study knowledge and understanding.

In lay terms this might be described as: the study of human cognition, focusing on measurable data and sensation-based experience of frontal chest areas.

Cognitive Sentioecology – Quantitative investigation of biological processes related to cognition, including the study of material substances, as in physics, chemistry, biology, and botany, horizontally combined with qualitative accounts of the structure of experience (how aspects of experience are sensed-felt), in the aim to study knowledge and understanding.

In lay terms this might be described as: the study of human + all organism cognition, focusing on measurable data and sensation-based experience of all tissue in humans, combined with measurable data of materials in the surrounding environment (such as data of a nearby plant, or closely surrounding air or soil measurements). This study is aimed at learning more about how organisms influence, communicate and otherwise cognate in relation to one another.

As I have noted elsewhere, Francisco Varela’s work to establish neurophenomenology has been a huge inspiration in all of my work. Natalie Depraz + Varela began to develop and Depraz continues to study cariophenomenology. The idea of sentiopectology is directly related to this move. The primary difference here is that I do NOT suggest a cardio focus.

From listening to people, and one of the particular points of fascination for me, has been that people mention a variety of areas of their chest. When people talk about sensation and point to their head or their gut it is quite quick to guess at organs involved. Here, it is easy to guess at a heart organ. Yet, the variety of and type of descriptions have me guessing that it is not necessarily their heart which is the particularly activated tissue, in terms of sensation. It is wonderfully curious!

*Please feel welcome to use any of this research for personal learning! To use this material for teaching material, therapeutic or all other purposes: include citations and send (according to your resources) $1 or more to gertrudious AT via mail, paypal or otherwise.

There are further interviews in this series which could be analyzed. Alas, this work must remain on hiatus until further funding or support is available. TREMENDOUS thanks to all those who participated in this research.

All materials on this website © erinchristinebell 2019.

“Each 1/10th of a second has a certain tone or feeling. In the next tenth of a second, the tone or feeling may be entirely different; or one may experience a diffuse transition to the next tone or feeling – which contains some of the same feeling while, simultaneously, new aspects of experience emerge which have an entirely different array of sensations or tone”

Perhaps there is more sense in our nonsense and more nonsense in our ‘sense’ than we would care to believe.” – David Bohm


Group-Research – Social/Ecological Cognition.

Perhaps there is more sense in our nonsense and more nonsense in our ‘sense’ than we would care to believe.” – David Bohm

In this work, I held a mindful movement research sessions with small groups of dancers. Then, I interviewed each participant individually. I asked about their sensation-based experience during their interaction with one other dancer. I looked at the same moment of improvisation from the perspectives of these two dancers – how they felt their bodies respond. Research Interviews can be found HERE.

How are Cognitive Science, Mindful Movement + Sensation-Based Interviews Related?!

About Cognitive Science – Cognition is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses. Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary study of mind and cognition (including neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, psychology, among other academic disciplines) aimed at understanding more about cognition and mental functions.

Cognition is something that you bring forth by … doing it actively … affect or emotion is at the very foundation of what we do … reasoning is almost like the icing on the cake. Reason is what occurs at the very last stage of the moment-to-moment experience emergence … the early stages are rooted in the sensory motor surfaces … you can [feel] the emergence … as it happens. It starts out from this soup, the entire organism in situation.” – Francisco Varela

The enactive approach – embodied cognition – 4E cognition – these are names used to speak about various theories within cognitive science. Some core ideas include: cognition is an active, on-going process; cognition is not just something that happens in the brain, rather it is a process involving the whole body in active engagement with the world; cognition is not just something that happens within an individual, rather cognition is always bound to social, cultural and physical contexts; cognition is a process which extends beyond a body via the use of tools (notebooks, computers) and via concepts/language; cognition is a relational, embedded process. That is, the ongoing process of cognition does not just happen within one’s body because one is never in isolation from others, from the environment. Rather, it is through interaction of an organism with-in their environment that knowledge, meaning and understanding arise.

Sister Efforts
Where 4E cognition seeks to widen the range of processes considered relevant for understanding and knowing, body-based awareness practices could be seen as having long understood and already busy working to improve the functioning and effectivity of the ongoing chit-chat/feedback loop happening between the various levels of organization in ourselves (our entire body-mind.)

They could be seen as sister efforts: 4E cognition intuits that the body/environment/etc is very important in knowing/understanding, and is out and about to test and show this in controlled experiments or field studies. Body-integrated awareness practices seek to tap into the ability of bodies and our awareness of its ongoing activity to facilitate more effective or wholesome regulation and integration. (Annika Lübbert contributed to this writing).

What is body-based awareness/somatics?!
This sort of work refers to a way of being-doing, any activity. It is exploring what being alive feels like. What are the sensations you notice as you sit here, have a thought, experience an emotion, smell this room…  Much like sitting meditation comes in many varieties, the exact exercise or mode of exploring what it feels like is limitless in possible variations (such as narrow or broad focus, interception or proprioception, etc.) The term somatics was coined in 1979 by a white-westerner, to talk about practices which had been around for centuries – such as vipassana meditation, hatha yoga, qi gong. As well, the term was meant as an umbrella term for a few modern forms of awareness practices like Mabel Todd, Elsa Gindler, or F.M. Alexander’s work – and, for practices which explicitly blend ancient and modern styles, such as Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Ida Rolf or Moshe Feldenkrais’ work. More on body-based practice/somatics, here.

About Sensation-Based Interviews
Through a dedicated practicing of noticing what it feels like to be alive, practitioners can FEEL a lot of the on-going process occurring in-with-and-around themselves. That is, more nuances of experience come into conscious awareness through dedicated practice.

This interview style is able to support both expert and non-expert practitioners alike – to find detailed, nuanced descriptions of sensations (which are often only possible to describe after many years of practice.)

This interview style deals with how it feels to be in interaction – rather than dealing with meaning-narrative or habitual thinking layers of experience. I often refer to this as a ‘sensation layer’. Interviewees regularly report gaining insight into their whole lives simply by exploring their sensation layer response. Even exploring rather inconsequential moments, 10 seconds of life – via sensation layer description – regularly produces significant ‘a ha!’ moments for participants.

I find this interview style fascinating and important-feeling because it seems to reveal the “moment-to-moment emergence…as it happens” (Varela); it highlights the sensory motor system (and the entire body) in ACTION, continuously; it highlights the idea that cognition/sense making/thinking is a relational process – and not just a feedback loop within one’s own body – but, in fact, this sensation layer highlights the experience that each of us are in a feedback loop in relation to our entire environment. It is a narrative of the soup of experience. It starts out from this soup, the entire organism in situation” – Varela


Along with neurophenomenology, what I hope to see flourish within cognitive science are such focuses as:

Cognitive Sentiopectology – Quantitative investigation of biological processes related to cognition, with a specific focus on the pectus tissue, horizontally combined with qualitative accounts of the structure of experience (how aspects of experience are sensed-felt), in the aim to study knowledge and understanding.

Cognitive Sentiosomatology or Cognitive Sentioecology – Quantitative investigation of biological processes related to cognition, including the study of material substances, as in physics, chemistry, biology, and botany, horizontally combined with qualitative accounts of the structure of experience (how aspects of experience are sensed-felt), in the aim to study knowledge and understanding.

In this, sentiopectology is to cognitive neuroscience as sentiosomatology/sentioecology is to cognitive science. While cardiophenomenology is actually close to sentiopectology, it is distinguished in that 1. it does not limit pectal focus to cardio dynamics, and 2. it does not imply that the philosophical modality of phenomenology is used as the means of qualitative investigation of that which can be sense/felt.

My work is based on Neurophenomenology/Varela – Three Gestures ; On Becoming Aware; ElicitationMicro-Phenomenology; Gendlin’s Focusing; and my own experience as a practitioner working with implicit knowledge forms. My primary bibliography can be found here.

*Please feel welcome to use any of this research for personal learning! To use these forms for teaching material, therapeutic or all other purposes: include citations and paypal $ to gertrudious AT All materials on this website 

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